Alicia Skiles, MS, NCC, Professional Counselor
“What if I have to go to the bathroom when I’m at school?”
“What did you do in Pre K?”
“I asked my teacher- oh, I could just ask my new teacher”
“What if someone forgets to pick me up from school?”
“let’s talk about that…”
These are parts of conversations that my 5 year old son and I have recently had. He starts kindergarten this fall and he is a bit uncertain about it. After our first visit to his new school, I noticed right away that I was answering a lot of questions. It took me a little longer to recognized that he was worried, even scared.
If you have a child starting school or returning to school this fall this may sound familiar. Back to school brings new rooms, new teachers and sometimes even new buildings and new peers. And while new might be exciting it can also be unnerving for children (and teens).
If you have not already, have a conversation with your child about this upcoming event. Tips for parents include:
Listening: Listening sounds easy but it takes effort to really listen. Many parents are ready with reactions like “you’ll be fine”, “you love school”, or “school is great, there is nothing to be worried about”. Take time to hear what your child is saying. Let them talk for a minute while you make eye contact, nod your head and say “tell me more about that”.
Validating: Validating is showing support for what a child is saying. It could be a statement like “you are worried about being new in your class? When I was your age, I worried about that too” or “It sounds like you are not sure where to go when you get to school, that would feel uncomfortable”.
Making a Plan: Making a plan can help prepare children and alleviate their worries. Plans should be specific to the child’s concerns. For example, if your child is worried that they won’t know where to go on their first day, you could make a plan to visit the school with your child and walk them to their classroom (this also works for middle-schoolers and high-schoolers!).
60 second challenge: Write down in your planner or electronic calendar to chat with you child or teen about going to (or back to) school (set up individual meetings if you have more than one kid). Include the words listen, validate and make a plan when you write in the meeting.